Free Goodwill vs. Paid Goodwill: How Do You Know When to Charge for Your Advice?

morning catsLet me tell you a story. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you already know parts of this story, but not all of it. It does not include cats (the photo posted here that I took this morning would indicate otherwise).

Over 6 years ago, I started writing a daily blog. My intention was to force myself to write every day so I would become a better writer.

A year or so into that process, I switched gears and decided that the purpose of the blog was to generate conversation. Whether it’s on the blog, on Facebook, or in real life, I hope to write something 5 times a week that will make people talk with one another.

Regardless of the purpose, I want to be clear that this blog is not self-promotional. This isn’t some secret plot to get you to buy my novel, my Hats for Cats line of feline haberdashery (damn it, now this is about cats. Are all my entries about cats? Somebody please tell me if this entire blog is about cats), or my board games.

Ah yes, the board games. Last year I put a board game called Viticulture on Kickstarter. It did well. I was able to achieve a lifelong dream of publishing a board game.

About a month before I put Viticulture on Kickstarter, I started another blog for the board game company I co-founded, Stonemaier Games. For the first few months, I wrote about the game design process and about specific elements of Viticulture.

But then I ran out of content about Viticulture, and I thought, “Now what?” At that point I had basically spent 2 years researching Kickstarter and executing two Kickstarter campaigns (one very small one before Viticulture), so I decided to start sharing that knowledge with other people.

Thus the Kickstarter Lessons were born. They’re a series of highly detailed, step-by-step blog entries that outline every step of the Kickstarter process. As with every blog, I started with one entry. Now I’m up to about 50 entries that are specifically geared towards helping other Kickstarter creators.

These entries have become widely read and referenced, especially in the board game community. Let me put it in context: The popularity of any website is tracked by a company called Alexa. It took me 5 years of writing daily entries on this blog to crack the top million sites on the internet according to Alexa. If you consider the number of websites out there, that’s a big deal, especially for a blog with very little focus.

After only 6 months since starting the Kickstarter Lessons series, my Stonemaier Games website is ranked #361,838.

I’m not bragging. In the greater scheme of things, that’s not a big deal. But it means a lot to me that enough people are finding and reading that series. They’re finding value in the Kickstarter Lessons. That’s important to me.

As a result of this blog, more and more people are coming to me for Kickstarter advice. I get about one request a day with someone either preparing for a Kickstarter far in advance (those are the best), those who have created a project page and want me to review it (I enjoy those too), and those who are midway through a campaign and want to figure out the magic sauce to turn their campaign around (those are not so good).

I enjoy giving advice, and I enjoy helping people. But I’m starting to wonder if there’s a limit. My time is certainly more precious than before. And I think my Kickstarter advice is potentially very valuable. There are companies that charge for the type of Kickstarter consultation that I do for free.

I mentioned earlier that there is no secret motivation behind this blog. That’s not quite the same for the Kickstarter Lessons. While I genuinely want to help people, my hope is that if they find value in the blog and recognize the time I spent on it, they might also back my Kickstarter campaigns, even just for a few dollars.

However, it was during the Euphoria campaign that I noticed an interesting phenomenon. A lot of people came to me for advice during the campaign. Not as many as now, but still quite a few. They mostly had the same types of questions I have now.

And I helped them. Some were short correspondences, others grew to multiple e-mails. Keep in mind that this was during an insanely busy Kickstarter campaign. I work a full-time day job, and I spent every second of my free time working on Euphoria. You saw the results on this blog–I was really boring for about a month.

Here’s the phenomenon about those people who asked for advice during the campaign, despite knowing how busy I was: Almost none of them were Kickstarter backers. They messaged me on Kickstarter, so I can see their backer info at the top of the message. They weren’t backing Euphoria. They just wanted my advice.

This was really weird to me. It’s a little like going to hear a writer talk about his novel and yet you don’t buy the book. There’s a disconnect there–if no one buys the book, there’s no book tour. If there’s no book tour, you don’t get an hour of entertainment.

I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if it wasn’t so distinct. I’m talking about 90% of people who came to me for consultations during the Euphoria campaign didn’t spend a cent on the project. Not even $1 to follow the campaign and learn from it as it progresses. These were the same people for whom I saved thousands of dollars by cutting inefficiencies, improving shipping logistics, and streamlining their campaigns to maximize returns.

I’m not complaining–after all, it was my choice not to say anything to those people, and it was my choice to help them. But it did get me thinking: If the majority people who want my feedback aren’t going to back my Kickstarter campaigns, and if that bothers me, should I start to charge for my feedback?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know how helpful the data is–after all, those non-backers might have been spreading the word about Euphoria like none other. But I feel like I should do something.

Specifically, I feel like I should put a value on my advice. Here’s my idea: I set the value of my Kickstarter consultations at $100 plus one of the items produced if the campaign is successful. That consultation includes e-mail communication and one conversation on the phone far in advance of a project, a full Kickstarter project page preview review close to the launch date, and the availability to bounce ideas off me during the campaign via e-mail. The $100 fee will be waived if you’ve backed a Kickstarter project of mine at a level that gets you the game (i.e., you can’t just back at the $1 level).

Is that fair? Will that ruin the goodwill I’ve built up among the community of Kickstarter creators? Let me know what you think. Also feel free to tell me how cute my cats are.

Thanks to alert reader Emma for inspiring this entry with her tweet about CentUp. This entry went in a different direction than that, but I appreciate the inspiration!

32 thoughts on “Free Goodwill vs. Paid Goodwill: How Do You Know When to Charge for Your Advice?”

  1. Great entry. I grapple with these problems as both a literary agent and solo attorney. I usually do free consults but I limit the consultation to only 20 to 30 minutes of my time. I began to realize that if I give away advice for free I would not be able to pay down my student debt in the short run and more importantly wouldn’t be creating value in the long run. Writers usually require more time investment to woo but as I’ve signed more writers I find that’s less necessary. As an attorney I am a bit more flexible depending on who is asking me for advice (friend vs. family vs. stranger). It’s a very fine line. The problem with charging $100 a hour for the Kickstarter demographic is that most of these people are entrepreneurs without deep pockets (I’m not counting VC-backed enterprises, which probably wouldn’t be on Kickstarter anyway), and, as you mentioned charging for advice might possibly damage good will (you don’t actually pay for good will, but that’s semantics).

    I do think that they should at least back your project or pledge to back a future project of yours (though there is no way to enforce this). Because your time is limited and you get so many requests perhaps you should automatically weed out those requests for advice that involve turning around a failing campaign and those that ask you for a lot without supporting your endeavors. Those two outliers should make it more manageable for you to continue conversations with only ‘high-value’ outcomes–of course, that smacks of favoritism but that’s unfortunately the way it becomes when you gain more renown.

    Time to write the book? You can get an advance with such a great platform. Not speaking in self-interest here, just stating a fact 🙂

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  2. The other problem is – as successful as you’ve been on Kickstarter – others have been successful as well, nearly everyone has a KS lessons learned page these days, and the lowest point is free.

    Set a price and/or limit on your info/time, certainly. If nothing else, it’ll weed out the absolute time-wasters.

    Reply
    • Paul–That’s true, many successful project creators have written about their experiences. However, the difference is that they usually write one post, not 50. I’m glad they shared their experiences, but I think my Kickstarter Lessons offer a whole other level of value. Well beyond what I’ve done is the Funding the Dream podcast–Richard Bliss essentially has 146 Kickstarter Lessons in podcast form at this point. I believe that Richard offers paid consultations, but I don’t know the details of that.

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      • Exactly. There will always be someone else to provide the information, and if we’re comparing info, there will always be someone offering more info or less info, better info or worse info. It’s not about the info, and it’s not about the money – it’s about lost time.

        Charging money is one way to keep casual questions to a minimum, but you could do the same by restricting your KS feedback to your blog entries, which are *insanely* insightful, and redirecting people to that info.

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  3. I find it pretty disheartening to know that you’ve helped so many people that couldn’t be bothered to back your campaigns or at least promise you a free copy of their game/product/idea. I’m sure some people would charge a consultation fee just because they can, even if their advice isn’t that great. But knowing you, I’m sure you provide quality, honest feedback that reflects a fresh point of view along with a great analysis of their campaign because you’ve really taken the time to look it over. That’s less time you have for your own projects, less free time, less time with friends, less time spent staring at hot girls in yoga pants, etc. That time means something, and when you help so many people, it can really accumulate quickly.

    Charging a reasonable fee while still providing a good amount of advice might help weed out the ones that aren’t as serious about it, and give you more time to live your life. I think if you explain it in a nice way, people will understand that you can’t spend all your time fixing everyone else’s campaign. If they honestly can’t afford it but you really believe in the project, you could always think about the occasional “pro bono” case.

    If someone is really rude about it, you probably wouldn’t want to help them anyway. In those cases, I suggest that you take a page from Jay-Z’s book and tell them, “If you’re having game problems, I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems, but shipping ain’t one. “

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  4. Do it. Charge the fee. Write it off if you want to donate it for free when a good cause comes around. Own that shit! People spend so much money with consultants on smaller items than launching their business/venture/idea, and I think a smart entrepreneur will see your value and take you up on it. Also, smart entrepreneurs are probably the ones worth working with.

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  5. You should charge the fee now! If you’re like me you’re already kicking yourself for the lost money that you should already have, had you had the foresight that people would be willing to pay you for advice. Cut your losses and charge whatever YOU are worth now- your time, your talent. Ask those people to write a short recommendation to improve your visibility and success rate. Great job Jamey! And hey, at least you will be charging now, it’s better late than never. 🙂

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  6. Hmmm. It’s a tricky subject to be sure. Here’s a question that bears asking: if those people asking you for advice had backed your projects (earnestly, not at the $1 level) would you be having these thoughts at all? Your insights are valuable, and you’ve already done a lot of favors in writing your Kickstarter Guide. It seems like on some level you feel like you don’t necessarily want to charge for your advice, but nor do you want your extremely valuable time to be taken advantage of. I could be reading the situation wrong. What would I do in your situation? Gauge how deep these conversations go and how frequently, and consider if “consultant” is another hat I want to add to the mix. I don’t think you are even remotely out of line to ask someone to back your project if they want to pick your brain. That’s not the same as a fee, it’s a gesture of good will. I own several games I distinctly don’t care for (I mean, a game about making wine? How dumb is that? 😉 ) because I know that when my game goes out, I’ll be able to rely on the network I’m building to back it and help spread the word…which I think is a pretty crucial component of the Kickstarter philosophy.

    I don’t know. I think the campaigns you run are nothing short of magnificent, and I certainly think your time is valuable and not to be wasted, but it is a pretty serious paradigm shift when you attach a dollar value to it. Not that your advice isn’t worth money, but is it worth that change? That’s a question only you can answer.

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  7. I heard Steven Leavitt (Freakonomics) speak once. He was talking about a person he was interviewing while researching for his book. As he was interviewing her, her phone rang several times. She ignored all the calls, even though he told her she could answer it. He didn’t want her to lose business because of his interview. She told him that it wasn’t really a big deal, she wasn’t too concerned about losing clients.

    His response to her was that if she doesn’t jump to answer every time the phone rings, she’s not asking enough for her services. He followed up with her a few months after the interview. She told him that she had increased her fees and was happier with her work than she’d ever been before.

    Of course, she was a prostitute, so your situation is a little different. Either way, if you’re offering your services as a consultant, charge enough money that you will jump at the opportunity to do business. If you aren’t excited to help someone when they ask, you’re not asking enough in return. That might mean they ask someone else who will do it for free, and that’s fine.

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  8. Also, if you really decide that charging for your expertise isn’t your style, consider limiting the number of people you’re helping at any given time. Take on no more than 3-4 campaigns at once, and as those start to wrap up, give your help to someone else. This can provide you with a lot of your time back while still allowing you to help out others that may need it. Of course, you’ll have to gently turn people away when your booked, but it sounds like something has to give at this point.

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  9. Thank you all for your thoughts so far (I particularly enjoyed the comparison to prostitution, which was actually a really good example). You’ve helped me identify the following questions/points:

    1. Why do I give Kickstarter advice? Is it for the money or for free stuff? Or do I just like giving advice? –I would say it’s a combination of the above. For the most part it just feels good to help people, and I like seeing the influence my Kickstarter Lessons and consultations have had on other Kickstarter projects. I also like to give advice–I like that a stranger would come to me (of all people) to see what I think. Money and free stuff don’t motivate me to give my Kickstarter advice, but as I mentioned in the article above, I also don’t want to feel used by someone who could have backed my project or offered me a free copy of theirs. Something I didn’t mention above is that a number of people that I’ve extensively helped have ended our conversation by saying, “I hope you back my project!” I’m always bewildered by that. I just spent hours researching your project and giving you free advice, and your response is to ask me to back your project? Again, there’s a disconnect there that I need to rectify up front.

    2. Is my advice worth money? –I hope this doesn’t come across as cocky, but yes, absolutely it is. I’m confident that I can look at any project page and make it better, and that can make a huge difference in the number of backers someone gets. My advice directly translates into more funds for project creators and a higher chance at reaching their funding goal. Of course, not everyone actually takes my advice, and I’ve seen the results, but that’s out of my control. And of course there are many people out there that any project creator could turn to for advice, friends and family included. But I’m not friends or family. I’m a stranger who knows Kickstarter really well.

    3. Have I clearly communicated my hopes/expectations? –I haven’t. In fact, I may have communicated the opposite (at the top of the Kickstarter Lessons I say, “If you would like Jamey to look over your Kickstarter project before you launch, please contact him at jamey.stegmaier@gmail.com.”) If my hope was for people to back my project after I offered them my consultation, I need to communicate that. Although I’d like people to figure that out on their own, that’s not fair of me to assume.

    4. Should I turn some people away? –This is interesting, as it hasn’t really occurred to me. Some people come to me instead of reading the Kickstarter Lessons, and I tell them to read the lessons and then e-mail me if I didn’t answer some of their questions. But even if someone contacts me with a really poor project, that’s okay. I don’t mind. I try not to spend more time than I should on those projects, because they could potentially take many hours of fixing, but I try to boil my advice down to a few key points. I would like to weed out people who want a lot of my time for free, though.

    5. Do different people want different things (i.e., do some have a quick question while others need a detailed response)? –People do want different things, and I think I may need to structure my system to accommodate different types of requests. If someone had a quick question or two, I wouldn’t want any compensation at all. I’m happy to help. If someone needs a more detailed consultation, I’d like them to back my project and/or give me a free copy of theirs. And if someone wants a lot of help, I want to charge for it.

    What do you think? Does that cover everything? Thanks so much for your insights.

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    • I like this. I think it’s straightforward and still genuine. However, this strikes me as odd:

      You must be willing to implement my feedback. You don’t need to implement any of my advice, but only ask if you’re truly willing to hear what I have to say.

      Does that really matter? I know inherently, you only want to give advice to people willing to hear it. But so what if they pay you, take your advice, and never read it because they got busy? Do you really care? It seems a little snobby which does not match the rest of the page. (I get the sentiment, but it seems weird to come out and say.)

      Also, for the advanced description in parenthesis, I would write, “full pledge to my Kickstarter campaign and a free copy of your product” – also, what if you don’t have a current campaign? Then is it default Expert level, or could people buy a la carte items for $33 or something?

      Overall, this is great 🙂

      Reply
      • Emma–That’s great advice. You should consult on people who are thinking about consulting. 🙂

        I removed the line you mentioned. You’re right–if people are paying for my advice, then they can ignore all of it if they want (I think this bothered me more with people who asked for my free advice when they really didn’t want feedback–they wanted affirmation).

        I changed the wording on the advanced description to start with: “I expect you to back my next project or to have already backed one of my Kickstarter campaigns at a full pledge level.” Does that work?

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      • Hmm…I’ll try to reword it to make it clear that any type of testimonial is fine (positive or negative).

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  10. 1) Thanks for the mention of CentUp

    2) These days whenever I meet with someone new I bring a list of 2-3 things I can do for them. I feel an immense level of guilt when approaching a person in a 1-sided way where I’m the primary benefactor. People who write to you and don’t offer anything in return (even if they know you probably won’t need it) may not be the folks you should spend much time helping.

    3) Your cats are cute.

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    • Thanks, Len. I really like your philosophy of thinking about what you can do for other people instead of what you can get from them. That’s exactly the philosophy I try to teach in my Kickstarter Lessons.

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      • I’m confident you can and have created value by giving advice on Kickstarter campaigns. I think this page explains your rationale clearly. I would couch the ‘guidelines’ in more ‘positive terms,’ i.e. instead of saying must, say “please read the Kickstarter lessons first,” because there’s no way you can really enforce this unless you receive repetitive questions, in which case you can say please refer to X at so and so link. Also, I think you should time-limit your phone consultation to 30 minutes. Time is money, it’s the one commodity we can’t back, one can always make more money. I think you’ll be even more successful and get lots of referrals and good testimonials. Soon you’ll start making more than some lawyers do!

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  11. You better be writing a book!! Your KS lessons are several orders of magnitude better than any “guru” out there. Charge $30 for the book, require it to be READ before you’ll answer questions. Then charge another $100 fee as you suggest, that can be waived, bartered, etc. You may be a bit too modest to realize how much you stand above the crowd.

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    • Thanks Dale. 🙂 I’m open to the idea of writing a book, but I like how easy it is to update entries in the Kickstarter Lessons. I would want the lessons to remain accessible and free, but they’re so in depth that I’m not sure what I could add by writing a book.

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      • Leaving the gaming section of kickstarter and walk on over into books and comics. It seems like 50% of successful book/comic kickstarters are reprints of free online material from their creators! Not a joke! And I’ve seen some offer “consulting” as one of the higher reward levels! So kickstart your book (basically a fine-tuned reprint), and offer multiple levels of consultancy as rewards — and some get expensive, like $10,000 and I’ve seen them get taken!

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  12. I second what Jen and Dale said about a book called, The Kickstarter Guide to Success: Board Games version by Jamey Stegmaier.

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  13. Jaam–I think you should absolutely charge for feedback. I didn’t have time to read all of the comments, but I have a few thoughts for you the next time I see you.

    Reply

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